The NFL coaching carousel is so 2019. Most teams that fired their head coach following their failure to make the playoffs, barring the Cleveland Browns, have already re-upped with the new guy, so the focus now turns to the quarterback position. That's where the real action is.
A significant number of teams have a big decision to make in relation to the most important position on the field this offseason, and a cast of veterans and rookie quarterbacks are front and centre. For a position that has, historically, been more about strength than depth, there are an awful lot of established NFL starters who could be playing for new teams in 2020. Factor in the all-new draft class that will propel three, or possibly four, potential starters into the NFL galaxy, and there should be plenty of quarterbacks to go around.
Let's start with two of the game's all-time greats, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Both have gone through contract restructuring in recent times, meaning both will be leaving the teams where their legends were made unless new deals are agreed upon. There is also the possibility of retirement, though Brady indicated that he has no intention of hanging them up quite yet, following the Patriots' shock exit to the Titans.
Even if New England is planning to move on from Brady sooner rather than later, they'll have to blood a young successor, and given their likely contender status once again next year, that won't mean finding a player who will start from day one of the 2020 season, more likely one who will sit and learn under veteran stewardship.
Why move away from Brady to another veteran unless there is a complete change of system -- and it's looking less and less likely that offensive co-originator Josh McDaniels will be going anywhere -- or the organisation has lost faith in Brady entirely, which is again unlikely? This season's offense has been the weakest he's played with since he became starter almost 20 years ago, and New England was still a playoff team.
Brees' apparent decline is similarly overstated, with the recency-biased mob of overreactors pointing to his indifferent display in the Saints' playoff defeat to the Vikings, conveniently overlooking the form he'd been in entering the playoffs. He may not have the deep ball these days, but Brees is still by far the best option for New Orleans once again next year, and like New England, they too will contend.
Out of the other veterans of a similar age, most likely to move on from his long-standing home is Philip Rivers, also out of contract with the LA Chargers and widely expected to leave the organisation. His performance dropped markedly this season but he would still walk into the starting role in several franchises.
One possible destination is the Indianapolis Colts, where Jacoby Brissett played his way out of the long-term starting job after a poor second half of the season. Depending on who lands where, Brissett could retain the job -- remember he was impressive for the first third of the season before injury, but he doesn't have a strong enough track record as a successful starter in the NFL to ensure he'll be safe or in demand as a starter elsewhere.
Things are different for Andy Dalton, whose time at Cincinnati may well be coming to an end, with the Bengals expected to take LSU star Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick. Burrow, who won the 2019 Heisman Trophy, looks like he could be a generational talent who can roll into a starting job on day one, much like Andrew Luck -- more on him later. Even if that turns out to be the case, the Bengals may still want to keep a veteran around their new star to show him the ropes and guide him through the system.
Whether Dalton will be content with a backup gig on those terms is unclear, and at 32, with over 30,000 passing yards under his belt, he'll certainly feel that he can start for another team if the Bengals move on.
He'll take comfort from Ryan Tannehill's situation. Tannehill started the season as a backup at Tennessee, won the starting gig, and hasn't looked back. It's testament to his once-fallen stock that he was only offered a one-year deal to understudy Marcus Mariota, meaning the Titans will have to splash out to secure him to a new deal, which they most likely will. Mariota, therefore, may well move on, and in a twist of fate, could end up emulating the trajectory of the man who replaced him.
Another quarterback who may have to continue to bide his time is the hapless Josh Rosen, talented but to date desperately unlucky with his NFL career. Drafted into a messy, pre-Kliff Kingsbury Arizona team, his bounce-back move to Miami hasn't gone to plan, and he may end up on his third team in as many years. There are some who rate this former first-round pick as a starter in the league, and there could be real value here if a team takes a chance on him.
At the opposite end of the career path, Eli Manning, the two-time Super Bowl-winning New York Giant, looks likely to retire, thus provoking years of incessant "is he Hall of Fame calibre?" chatter. Despite many thinking he may follow suit after missing the entire season through injury, Redskins veteran Alex Smith says he's planning on coming back to the NFL. Will he back up Dwayne Haskins in Washington now that Ron Rivera is in the building, or will he look to find a starting job elsewhere?
Rivera's old team, Carolina, announced their new head coach Matt Rhule this week, thus fuelling speculation about what he will do at the quarterback spot. Stick with Cam Newton, go with one of the two backups blooded this season (Kyle Allen and Will Grier) or look at an altogether different direction?
Newton has been linked with Chicago, who may have tired of the Mitchell Trubisky project, though their big-money quarterback improved steadily in the final few games of the season, maybe enough to earn him a stay of execution.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr ended an otherwise solid season on a low and has yet to shake off the sense that Jon Gruden doesn't really see him as the go-to guy. The Raiders may need a showy move to kick-start their Vegas residency, and that could mean making a play in the draft for Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who announced his plans for the 2020 draft this week. Oregon's Justin Herbert will also go in the first round and may be in Gruden's sights.
If Denver feels that Drew Lock is the way forward, then former Super Bowl winner Joe Flacco could be looking for another chance somewhere else, though it's unlikely he'll be in great demand. More interest would be generated by a return to the game for Andrew Luck, the former Colt who retired suddenly on the eve of the 2019 season, though his father, XFL commissioner Oliver Luck, has said that's unlikely to happen.
Indeed, the XFL kicks off in a few weeks and one of the starters in the nascent league may play their way into the NFL reckoning also. If they do, it'll be choppy, competitive waters that they'll be thrust into.